Destructive, disease ridden, razorback – all words used to describe feral swine that are rapidly becoming a growing nuisance to farmers and ranchers.
“Feral swine are one of the most destructive invaders a state can have,” says Undersecretary for USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs Edward Avalos in a USDA release. “They have expanded their range from 17 to 39 states in the last 30 years and cause damage to crops, kill young livestock, destroy property, harm natural resources, and carry diseases that threaten other animals as well as people and water supplies. It’s critical that we act now to begin appropriate management of this costly problem.”
On April 2, USDA announced a $20 million program led by the Wildlife Service of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) designed to help states control the expanding population of feral swine.
According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Wildlife and Fisheries Specialist Billy Higginbotham, feral hogs are the most prolific large mammals on earth.
“The average is between 5 and 6 pigs per litter. Sows have approximately 1.5 litters per year,” says Higginbotham. “Young females do not typically have their first litter until they are 13+ months of age, even though they can be sexually mature at 6 to 8 months of age or even earlier in some cases.”
Their booming population across 78 percent of the states in the country have caused approximately $1.5 billion in damages and control across the U.S. While holding fame for rooting and wallowing high-value crops and destroying natural resources, diseases that can be transferred to people, wildlife, water supplies and domestic animals, including domestic swine, are most worrisome.
“In addition to the costly damage to agricultural and natural resources, the diseases these animals carry present a real threat to our swine populations,” says Avalos. “Feral swine are able to carry and transmit up to 30 diseases and 37 different parasites to livestock, people, pets and wildlife, so surveillance and disease monitoring is another keystone to this program.”
APHIS plans to have the program operating within the next six months, focusing on testing for feral swine diseases most concerning for U.S. pork produces including, swine brucellosis, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, swine influenza, pseudorabies and classical swine fever.
Coordinating projects with Canada and Mexico will also take place.
“We’ve already begun this type of work through a pilot program in New Mexico,” concludes Avalos. “Through this pilot program, we have successfully removed feral swine from 5.3 million acres of land. By applying the techniques such as trap monitors and surveillance cameras we have developed through this pilot project, we aim to eliminate feral swine from two States every three to five years and stabilize feral swine damage within 10 years.”